The days are getting shorter, the air is getting brisker and those long, lazy days of sprinkler sessions have passed. It’s time to get back in gear, hit the books and get ready for fall; for new beginnings, beautiful autumn colors and comfort food. It’s also back-to-school time, and that usually means that you’re going to test the limits of your bank account… keep your money (and your sanity!) in check, with these 10 tips for your fall on a budget.
1. Get a leg up on fall shopping by cleaning out the closet. There are numerous thrift stores in Calgary that buy/sell gently-used children’s clothes, including Once Upon a Child (two locations in Calgary, www.onceuponachild.com); HuckleBerry Kids (on McIvor Boulevard SE, www.huckleberrykids.com) and Lollipop Consignment, 390 Northmount Drive NW. Selling some of your child’s clothes will make room for new ones, and give your wallet a bit of a break.
2. Garage sale season may be technically over, but don’t let that stop you from doing some much-needed fall cleaning (why wait until spring?) and holding a sale of your own. This will give your household the fresh start that much of us need at this time of year, and some extra money for all of the expenses that back-to-school time brings. Get the kids involved by having them hold a hot chocolate and cookie stand.
3. Winterize your house before winter arrives. Having drafts come in from your windows and doors, a furnace that isn’t up to snuff or pipes that are vulnerable to cold weather will cause you a lot of stress and cost you a lot of money. Take the time now to check all of these areas and take the appropriate action. It can be as simple as replacing the rubber seal around a window or door, or covering extra breezy windows with a layer of clear plastic. If you end up having to hire an inspector or making large purchases, don’t worry - it’ll be worth it in the long-term and will save you from having to make emergency repairs.
4. It happens every year: your child wants the greatest Halloween costume ever, and that’s that. The first step to saving money on this often-costly, but always fun time of year, is determining what costume your child would like to wear. Once a firm decision is reached, start collecting items/fabric/props that will be part of the costume. Purchasing them bit by bit saves you from spending a fortune at one time, but make sure that you keep track of what you’re buying; otherwise, there’s the risk of picking up more than you need.
5. Take advantage of end-of-season produce! It’s the prime time to pickle or can ingredients such as beets, pears, carrots. It’s an activity that is inexpensive, fun and you’ll have a tasty selection of food all winter. Get your kids to help measure the ingredients, count the jars and decorate them afterward. Use glass paint, ribbon, string, buttons, dried flowers and whatever else that will get your children’s creative juices flowing.
6. Farmer’s market goods are not the only great bargains available right now. Think ahead to next summer when your little ones aren’t so little anymore; there’s a good chance that they’ll need an upgrade to a bigger bike, rollerblades or even just the safety equipment. If you purchase these items now while they’re on sale, you’ll not only save a bundle of money, but your kids will be ready for spring fun as soon as the snow melts.
7. Buying packaged food is similar to going out to eat regularly: it’s expensive and you don’t know what ingredients are used. Yes, they’re convenient, but making your own food can be, too! Slice up fruits and vegetables in large amounts so they’re ready to go in your child’s lunch, and prepare sandwiches the night before. Home baked goods are always a good option, and they can be really healthy when you use whole grains and fruit butters instead of white flour and saturated fats. Whip up some nutritious treats like banana bread, oatmeal cookies or blueberry muffins in big batches, freeze individually and you’ll always have a sensible snack on hand. Head to my website, www.stephaniearsenault.ca, for an assortment of healthy recipes.
8. While you can find most school supplies at discount stores, there are certain things that are worth spending a little extra money on. Markers, pencil crayons, backpacks and glue sticks are all examples of items where the term “you get what you pay for” applies. Markers and glue sticks dry out, pencil crayons break and backpacks can tear or the zippers can be faulty. Spending less means you may have to replace them multiple times throughout the year. Do splurge on these things, but explain to your children that they have to take extra good care of them, and that they need to last all year long.
9. Beat the back-to-school blues with an impromptu camping trip. The first few weeks of school can be stressful for all members of a family, and it’s great to take a couple of days to reconnect. Campgrounds tend to have a ton of space at this time of year, so an impromptu trip shouldn’t be a problem. Pack plenty of warm clothes and blankets, and use the opportunity to talk about all of the new experiences at school while you’re snuggled up around a warm fire.
10. It’s great to enroll your kids in an assortment of activities - organized sports, music lessons, dance - but financially, it’s not always an option. These activities can cost thousands of dollars, especially if there are multiple children in a family. Most community centres around Calgary offer great programs, including drop-in ones (great for people who need a flexible schedule) that are very affordable. Check out www.calgaryarea.com for community centre locations and schedules.
Stephanie is a freelance writer specializing in travel and food writing. For more information, visit www.stephaniearsenault.ca.
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